Today I am going to be totally honest about my experience of being a writer.
It’s sometimes a heartbreaking profession. I’ve cried—sobbed so hard I couldn’t breathe—I’ve sighed, I’ve got angry at myself (edits will do that to you!), I’ve wanted to scream because at times, when learning to be an editor, I just did not “get” those damn clauses and dangling modifiers and all those horrible, pesky little things we need to know. I’ve put my head on the desk and just felt worthless, depressed, shit. I’ve wandered around the house feeling the same. Allowed my dream to take over my life. Allowed people to upset me. I have upset others. Been taken the piss out of, talked about, reamed, accused of plagiarism—Jeez, all manner of things that made me want, several times, to shut off this computer and walk away, never to return. No word to anyone, just go. Fuck this for a laugh.
Sales: I’ll share my experience. Obviously it won’t be the same for everyone. To get straight to the point, and I’ve said this before, I don’t make much money from writing. Back in the day, when I first started writing, money didn’t even enter my head. I wrote because I wanted to, I loved it, and it was just something I “did”. Then I got to know authors, was privileged enough to be on the inside of a few publishing companies—via editing and cover art—to see how a publishing company works. I saw sales—or not—how trends worked, how everything worked, from submissions to published tales. Then making money from writing seemed an option.
Some people make big money at this gig—and no, I’m not mentioning any names! I have been studying the way things work this past year. For those of you who know me from “way back then”, you’ll know I made last year my “get published shitloads of times” year. I shut myself away, barely emailed a soul. It was just something I felt I had to do. Something for me. Without getting out the violins, all my life I’ve given, given, given to others—mostly my choice, oftentimes not—and I was stubborn, dug my heels in, and was what some might see as selfish. I don’t see it that way. I took time out, did something I wanted to do for the first time ever (on such a big scale anyway), and it felt good.
I gave myself a goal of publishing 20 books. I exceeded it. Job done, yay me, whatever. I had a blast too. The reason for this insane amount of writing last year—and at the last count it was 425K; not bragging, just stating the facts, ma’am—was to see if having lots of books out there increased sales. It’s common sense, right? To have many books out there means you’ll rake in the cash eventually, yes?
No, it doesn’t.
I will admit that some royalties made, and still make, me laugh so hysterically that I border/ed on looking like some nutter in an institution. If I didn’t laugh I would cry. All that hard work, all that fucking effort, for something like $3 a month sometimes.
I’m not joking.
So, I had been very depressed at that three bucks, especially because it came from a place where you’d think that once you’re published there you’re loaded. It’s a myth, guys! I see every publisher the same now. It’s not the name of the place you’re published at that makes sales, trust me. It’s a combination of many things, I suspect, if we wanted to look at it in an analytical way so we knew what to do and how, so WE could then make big money like those who do, but as with all things in life, what works for one person may not work for you and me.
There we are, flapping around in a sea full of others flapping too. Some aren’t flapping. No, they’re swimming strong, know their direction to shore, and some even have the luxury—be it from hard work (and bloody good for them too, because they deserve the rewards) or sheer luck; right place, right time etc.—of a yacht coming to collect them to save them even swimming. Good on them, much respect going their way, no animosity whatsoever. Now. In the past I railed it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t this, it wasn’t that, but shit, as you mature you realise that what other people are doing distracts you from doing what YOU’RE meant to be doing. So, Bright Sunrise makes loads of money. So what? And it IS fair that she does because she’s worked hard, writes the books, has found that magic formula or whatever.
It is fair.
Saying that, I now believe there IS no magic formula. Some are destined to win through hard work, some aren’t. Some are destined to win by fate, some aren’t. Some aren’t flapping but swimming—but getting nowhere fast. Treading water, unable to do what’s necessary to move forward. The currents are against them. It just doesn’t matter to me anymore whether I “make” it. I’m tired of trying to understand it all. I had the dream, no longer have it, of becoming a household name in books. We've all had that dream. Our books as movies etc., and you know what? I don’t want it. Truly, not deep down. If it means having to be something I’m not, to do things I detest doing, being uncomfortable with who I’d become, wishing I could get the old me back, all to have people fawn over me, thinking I’m this person I’m not, using me for my brand, what I can do for them… No. Thank. You.
We’re all people, whether we’re “famous” in this little e-publishing world or not. We all shit, eat, sleep, fuck, hate, like, love, dislike. Putting a sash on that says “best-selling author who everyone loves and adores and swarms around and pats on the back and licks their arsehole so much their nose is permanently brown” is not ME. I don’t speak to people who are “famous” any differently than I do those who aren’t. You’re all the same to me. I couldn’t give a toss whether you earn $7,000 a month, $50,000 per year writing ebooks—and yes, there are people out there who earn that; please don’t shit yourself on my carpet or throw up on the sofa; the bathroom’s that way—because earning that money doesn’t make them any different to authors who make fuck all. All it means is the high earners can afford holidays, nice things etc.—BUT THEY ARE STILL PEOPLE! If they gad about like they’re royalty and I’m beneath them, I don’t want to know them anyway.
Good advice would be to drop the “I’m famous” mantle when dealing with me, because it just doesn’t wash. Also, I’ve noticed since becoming Natalie Dae, that people treat ME differently, giving me the time of day they wouldn’t had I not been published by Ellora’s Cave. Thanks! [Sarcasm intended—I clearly wasn’t worth knowing pre-EC.] Please, stop it. I’m still this person. I’m not some woman elevated in status because a publisher decided they liked my books. You want to talk to me, talk to me because I’m me, but be prepared for getting a response from a boring old cow who sits here day after day at her computer either writing or creating graphic art. Just me.
I was just about to go further into a rant about brands and how being attached to one makes you “different” but I won’t. It’d be ugly. I dislike it immensely.
So, after that interlude of something I clearly needed to get off my chest, let’s get back on track.
Some people make good money at ABC, some don’t. Some people make good money at XYZ—and God, aren’t I just being so original with my publisher names here? LOL—and some don’t. It’s a lottery. It doesn’t matter how big the publisher is, there are far too many other elements to consider when it comes to sales. The publisher can only do so much, then it’s up to you to build your name. There are so many authors out there it isn’t surprising most of us fall by the wayside. The stampede to reach the top is too much for me, I've realised. I’d rather just stroll along nicely, stop along the way to eat an ice cream, have a sunbathe. You know, chill a bit.
Promotion: Does it really work? So far, in my experience, no. I have an “experiment” going on right now with a friend, and if the type of promo we’re doing still makes no difference, then you know what? Fuck promotion up its soul-destroying arse, because promotion costs time and money—I don’t have either to waste, neither does my friend.
Blog posts, blog tours, scavenger hunts, dropping links on groups, adding promo to the end of normal, everyday blog posts, paid advertising, sending books out for review, dropping links to our books/reviews/whatevers on Facebook and the like,—it’s just something we DO, a time-consuming effort to build the brand, to be noticed among the thousands of other people doing exactly the same thing. It works for many but fails for many too.
Myself and my friend are TIRED, but we’ll see this experiment through until the end, because there’s a burning desire to know, once and for all, whether promotion actually works.
Getting your “brand” out there: This involves being a member of several groups and online networking sites. The only one I indulge in now is Facebook. I work mainly from my Emmy Ellis page, because that’s me and exactly who I am from day to day. I can’t be all people all of the time, meaning Sarah Masters and Natalie Dae (Charley Oweson is asleep right now). It’s too exhausting, too time consuming. I used to think they were separate parts of me, cocooned in their different worlds, far removed from who I am as Emmy, but I came to realise they’re not. They are all me, they just write with different voices, in different genres, and I found that keeping the bits of me all apart was making me depressed not to mention insane. I now don’t give a monkeys who knows I’m all of these people—I mean really, who the hell cares? What does it matter in the grand scheme of things? For those who are not aware of many personas, here they all are:
Charley Oweson (formerly M. E. Ellis) – horror writer
Natalie Dae – Het author
Sarah Masters – m/m author
Owner of Miz Love Loves Books – review site
PoshGosh, cover artist
Emmy Ellis – me, editor, proofreader, mother, nanny, daughter, sister, wife, blah-de-blah-blah-blah
Getting your brand out there brings the risk, quite frankly, of getting on people’s tits. You join in on the conversations, bring your own experiences and opinions to the table, boost other authors, congratulate them, sit using up valuable time that could be spent writing, by shooting the shit with other people who are doing exactly the same thing as you—all out there pushing their brand. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some effing brilliant friends by being on these groups and sites and I wouldn’t change having been an active member on them for the world because of that alone, but, jaded as it might sound, I didn’t relish sitting there bullshitting with hundreds of people just so my name was “seen” by…other authors! We don’t want to just target other authors, do we? Yes, authors are also readers, and yes, they may well buy our books, but for Pete's sake, think about it: Why are we pushing ourselves at other authors who, if we were all honest and came out stating what we earned, can’t justify the expenditure on others' books anyway?
Readers, those who are loyal to the written word, are the ones we’re supposed to target, but, if you’re like me, I hate “pushing” myself at people. It feels like that to me, anyway. That I’m saying, “Hey, you there! I’m talking to you, and I really do give a shit about what you’re saying—and I do!— that you broke your leg and your dog just shat on your neighbour’s lawn and your neighbour is banging on your window, irate as hell and gunning for you, but are you going to buy my book or what?” It’s a horrible way to go about it, a horrible feeling, something that may well only be a thing I feel, but feel it I do. Also, who the buggering hell wants to listen to me warble on anyway? And NO, absolutely-bloody-no, I’m not saying that so people will say, “Oh, Em, we want to listen to you.” NO! I’m saying it because God, I wouldn’t want to listen to me if I wasn’t me, so why the hell would anyone else?
All these feelings, these worries and insecurities, make Emmy Ellis crap at promotion. I’ve done it, am doing it, and in the past have seen NO CHANGE in sales. So, like I said, this last experiment, and then I’m done. Either people will read my books or they won’t. I will NOT break my heart over whether they don’t. Nope, just won’t do it anymore. It hurts, and why the eff would I want to hurt myself intentionally?
Reviews: Oh, gone are the days when I shit myself over them, when the link makes my guts roll and I’m excited as hell to see what someone thought of my book. Now I ignore them if possible. The ONLY time I read them is if a friend sends me the link saying the review is good. The last time someone sent me a link to a bad one and said I ought to read it—it was a bad one, very, very bad—was because it was so bad they knew it could damage me/my brand. That person quite rightly knew I should know about it, and I went along to read all about how shit my book was, how it was incorrect in places—Research, do your research, Sarah Masters, for in my opinion you know fuck all!
You know what I thought? Aww, leave me the hell alone, there’s a dear. I’m not here to step on anyone’s toes, to overtake anyone’s genre, I just. Want. To. WRITE.
My book was apparently porn. It was so bad that it should never have been published, if the reviewer was to be believed. And that book was so bad, so snark-worthy, that they bought the second book and trashed that too. I had, in my opinion, written a book that stepped on a few toes and it wasn’t acceptable. At the time, I felt they were saying I’d written in a genre that I wasn’t aware belonged solely to them, that they were implying I ought to step away from the keyboard, away from their genre, and hide my arse. They may well not have thought/meant that, and they had the absolute right to express how they felt about my books, but their reviews taught me something: Don’t read reviews ever again if you can help it. What you don’t see doesn’t hurt you. Don’t give someone else the power to upset you—if they didn’t like your book, tough shit.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t read your reviews. I’m just talking about me and mine. They just make me shudder when Google alert informs me I have one, and I close the email and forget about it.
Anyway, we’ve all heard it: Reviews are just one person’s opinion.
Besides, it’s our fault they have our books to review anyway. We wrote them, we chose this profession, so therefore we must expect, when something of ours is out there to be picked at, to receive some negative responses. It becomes clear when reviewers are out to purposely harm, clear when they haven't actually read your book properly (I had a review where the reader admitted to skimming then said things didn't make sense. Perhaps because she skimmed and missed the information she needed, hmm?) and you get to work out which ones are genuine in their constructive criticism—that’s the key words right there!—as opposed to those who have fun reaming your arse in public because they woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day, your book didn’t do anything for them, and rather than put it down when they first decided it was the biggest pile of shit they’d ever read, they continued, reading every painful word, putting themselves through misery—are they fucking NUTS?—in order to tell anyone who reads the review how much they HATED your tale.
Whatever. Floats. Their. Boat.
At one time, bad reviews hurt, made my cheeks get so hot they itched, made me want to cry, but now? Hell no. You don’t like my book? Shame, that. Move on and buy someone else’s, someone you DO like, because spending money on mine, wasting precious hours of your life—which, let’s face it, is very short when you get all maudlin and think about such things—is just plain silly, isn't it? This author no longer gives a crap whether a reviewer spews vitriol about her work. It’s a “shrug” kind of response these days. An “Ah, well, better luck with the next book you pick up. I’ll still be writing whether you like me or not, because I want to, I love it, and it makes me happy. That my books don’t give you the same warm, fuzzy feeling as they gave me is unfortunate, but shit, there are so many books out there you can get the warm fuzzies from, that fucking up by reading mine will soon fade in your memory.”
So, if you get good reviews, I’m genuinely pleased for you. If you don’t, just don’t sweat the small stuff. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s just one knockdown of many we’ll all receive in this crazy career we’ve chosen. Expect it, know it’s coming, and then you won’t be disappointed.
So where am I now?
This year is art year. I did the manic writing thing, now I’m easing back. Still writing when I have time but it isn’t my main focus. Graphic art is another of my loves, I’ve discovered, and fate showed me the way in December on this subject. As with writing, making money on cover art isn’t something you can expect unless the publisher pays flat fees per cover. If the book you created the cover for sells, great, you make some money, but if it doesn’t, well, you don’t.
As with writing, I create covers because I love it. I haven’t really been pissed off with not making much money. I’ve created numerous covers for free, numerous blog revamps for free, numerous icons, avatars, banners—you name it, I’ve done it, because it felt RUDE to charge.
How mad is that? To feel rude for charging for my time, effort, and yes, money I spend on some pictures I’ve used. I’m a seriously odd person like that, but I didn’t want to charge authors for something I myself would have wanted but couldn’t have due to not earning enough royalties to cover the charge. People want a nice blog, a nice cover, and the rates people charge—and I only realised this recently, had never looked into the prices on stuff like this before—is EXTORTIONATE! I would feel even ruder asking for that kind of cash.
So, I generally work for free. And please, much as I’d love to help you out prettifying your sites and whatnot, I can’t now. I’ve had to stop doing free work for people, not because I can’t ask for payment and it makes me feel uncomfortable when I’m offered payment, but because I just do not have the time. Close friends, that’s different. People I’ve done sites for in the past, that’s different. The small jobs I’m asked to do on those sites is related to what I did in the past and all comes under that umbrella. It’s new projects I can’t do—unless I offer them, and when I do it means I have a lull going on.
(A lull? What the fuck is THAT?)
Anyway, as I’ve been prattling on about sales in writing, I may as well touch a bit more on sales in cover art. I’ve mentioned the royalty version. Now we come to the flat fee version. Some e-publishers pay anything from $50-$300 a pop per cover. I knew about this but never approached any of them because I didn’t feel they'd want me. Friends told me to apply, but I didn’t. Now we come to where fate stepped in. I got a contract with a publisher for a short ménage, and I wrote to my editor asking if I was allowed to provide my own cover, which I sent to her. Some publishers let you, some don’t. Anyway, the length of my book meant I would get a generic cover, but the publisher wrote and chatted with me about my artwork and asked if I would like to work for her. She mentioned flat fees, and because my experience with that company had been brilliant on the writing side of things, I agreed to do cover art there.
This has drastically changed our life. Without going into my private details, flat fees make one hell of a difference. On some books I might lose out—the royalties, had I been paid this way, will well outshine the flat fee, but on other books I will have come out on top. This suits me fine. I love working with this publisher, get along well with the owner, and I’m happy to say that at last things seem to be going right for us.
I have a few WIPs sitting in files. There are three I really want to finish because they’ve been promised to publishers, but there is no great desire in me to write like a fiend anymore. Perhaps it’s because I have the art thing going on, or perhaps I’ve got a block somewhere because writing and having very few read your work is a tad disheartening and kinda makes me not want to bother any longer. Oh, I’ll still write, but the raging fire for it has gone. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. I am happy, can say I’m happier than I’ve been in a very long time, and to me that’s more important than anything. If I’m happy, Hubby and my kids are happy.
Have I grown up?
So I wonder, have I finally grown up? Have I seen the light on what life is really all about? That what truly matters is happiness? I have no idea, I really don’t, but right now I feel I’m in the place I was meant to be all along and that everything I went through before this was for a reason. I needed to understand the publishing world, to be on the groups, to try and promo, to learn the craft, to work my arse off. It all gave me the perspective I have now, led me to where I am now. Just because my dream with writing hasn’t come true, it doesn’t mean my art one won’t. The art avenue has already fulfilled everything I could have hoped for, and I bless the day my short ménage was rejected elsewhere and I chose to sub to where it landed up. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am. Fate. I believe in it.
So it wasn’t all a waste of time.
No, it wasn’t. Like I said, I needed to do what I’ve done. It’s given me experience of life, of people, and I’ve made some damn good friends. I look back at my achievements and realise that even though stardom and riches didn’t come from penning my books, the fact that I have many published is a dream fulfilled in itself. Some people dream of just having one out there, so I’ll stop griping and be pleased with doing what I have.
The girl who thought she’d never amount to anything did good.